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US midterms Friday, 30 October, 1998, 12:13 GMT
Lewinsky in Loveland
Clinton and Lewinsky hug
Is the heat now out of the hug? Voters suffer Lewinsky overkill
One of the big tactical choices for candidates has been whether to peg their campaign on the Monica Lewinsky affair. Many have had to judge their voter's appetite for the scandal in Washington.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]That has certainly been the case in parts of South western Ohio - a comfortable quiet corner of the United States which is also known as the "Ground Zero" where more than half a dozen marginal seats are up for grabs.

In Loveland, a town of 10,000 people, the local republican mayor Lee Skurkowitz made the Lewinsky affair an election issue from day one. Mr Skurkowitz has been involved in politics since 1991 and now sees himself as the guardian of Loveland's moral conscience.

He and his fellow republicans pushed through a resolution at a recent council meeting calling for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, brushing aside local people who said it was none of Loveland's business.

"We feel that it actually brings up the values and the morals of the people of the city of Loveland. There are a lot of married younger people here in town and probably most of them aren't good church goers. We just thought we would try to exert a right for free speech and the first amendment," Mr Skurkowitz said.

The message was faxed to the White House but there has been no response so far from President Clinton.

By the scandal divided

But taking such a strong stance on the Lewinsky affair in the throes of a partisan mid-term election campaign, has left the town divided.

Democrat councillor Mary Newman believes the move may have backfired.

"I think it deepened a lot of people's anger at the present city council's majority. Presently our mayor and city manager are in an investigation by the ethics commission and a lot of people found that this holier than though attitude they were taking with the Clinton issue on lies, deceit, and cover up was .. kind of hollow," she said.

The incumbent Republican congressman Steve Shabert, who is locked in a tight race for this Ohio seat and is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee about to begin its impeachment inquiry, does not hide his disgust with President Clinton.

"I think our elected officials, particularly the president, should be role models. I think that character matters, I think morality matters that families matter - we've always emphasised those things," Mr Shabert said.

But he has chosen not to emphasise the Clinton issue in his campaign. He does not dare. Polling evidence suggests a public backlash could be in the works for any candidates relying on Clinton-bashing to secure election victory.

"If one or the other of the candidates are making a real big deal and spending all their money and their time and their advertising on that issue, maybe it would have an impact. But I certainly would not want to take that kind of chance," he said.

With just a few days to polling day, southwestern Ohio is not gripped with election fever - let alone Monica Lewinsky fever. Around Loveland the voter turnout is predicted to be as a low as 20 percent. So, amid the voter apathy and the weariness with the Washington scandal, the Republican majority on the local council may be regretting its anti-Clinton crusade.

Serious about scandal or issues

Some of the locals are accusing Mayor Skurkowitz of turning his town into a laughing stock.

"When I first heard about it was I thought it would make us look silly on the outside. And I think it did. I think most people just kind of laughed and said oh there they go in Loveland again," local resident Bruce Leaver said.

If anything, the council letter to the White House has prompted questions about the integrity of the mayor and his council colleagues. Just like Mr Clinton, Loveland's mayor is sounding kind of defensive.

"You have to tell the truth or what's at that time the best of your ability of what the facts are and I always do that," Mr Skurkowitz said. When asked of he could say that he had never lied since he had been mayor he said he could sat that he hadn't.

However he added a proviso: "From time to time we have had to retract statements because, at different times, circumstances do change and then you have to change your mind," he said.

Some people in Washington are calling this election an impeachment referendum but in Loveland the roads need fixing and the schools need funding and those are the serious issues on which votes will be cast - if they are cast at all.

BBC News
Stephen Sakur visits Loveland, Ohio
Links to more US midterms stories are at the foot of the page.

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